Every day, you open the news and see more stories about the strange disease called Zika. Media hysteria has reached a fever pitch in the last few weeks. But what should travelers do to protect themselves? Here’s a Zika travel information resource with everything that’s known and how you can protect yourself from Zika.
If you’ve read the news or watched TV, you’ve probably heard about this. Some of the news articles are pretty alarmist and border on the hysterical. Some major corporations are prohibiting their employees to travel to Zika-effected zones (which is pretty much everywhere in North and South America, as well as the Caribbean). People we know are cancelling or changing their travel plans because of Zika. But are such precautions truly necessary?
With a little bit of precaution and common sense, we believe it is possible to travel safely to Zika-effected areas. Put differently, we’re not changing our travel plans because of Zika and we are heading to Zika-effected areas soon. To date, out of the tens of thousands of people who leave the U.S. and Canada every day and travel to Central America and the Caribbean, only 35 cases have been reported. The risk level is low, but you should still take basic precautions.
Zika Travel Information
What is Zika?
Zika is a viral infection that is spread from mosquitoes to people through bites. In people, Zika looks a lot like a really bad case of the cold or the flu. Common symptoms include fever, rash, aches and pains, join pain and red or swollen eyes. It is rare for the symptoms to be severe enough to require hospitalization. Symptoms typically begin 2-7 days after being bitten (so often after the person has returned home).
The most serious risk is to women who are pregnant or may become pregnant. There is a chance for the mother to pass the virus to the fetus. In a percentage of cases, this transmission can result in the baby being born with microcephaly – a condition where the baby’s head is abnormally small. Microcephaly can also lead to other issues including developmental disabilities, seizures, as well as vision and hearing problems. Therefore, it is extremely important for women who are pregnant or who may become pregnant soon to take precautions.
Where can Zika be found?
The World Health Organization has classified Zika as a global health emergency. Initially discovered in the islands of the South Pacific, cases of Zika are reported throughout the Americas and the Caribbean – from the United States to Brazil.
How should you protect yourself from Zika?
Prevention is the name of the game. There’s not as easy as it sounds since there are currently no vaccines to protect against Zika. The best way to protect yourself against Zika is to not get bit by mosquitoes.
The mosquitoes that transmit Zika (known as the Aedes species) are most active during the daytime, specifically early morning and around sundown. Travelers should cover themselves with long shirts and pants, preferably of a thicker material. Mosquitoes can go right through spandex and light-weight clothing. Clothing that is treated with a permethrin spray may offer additional protection. However, it should not be used on the skin. For that, you need a good mosquito repellent or insect repellent.
What is the best mosquito repellent?
Everyone swears their mosquito repellent is the best (or worst) at repelling bugs. Laura is an absolute mosquito magnet, so we’ve had years to hone our anti-bug strategy. The gold-standard in anti-bug protection is DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) and is found in varying concentrations among commercial insect repellent. The higher the DEET concentration, the longer it lasts (and the better it works).
For us, the absolute best insect repellent is the Ultrathon Insect Repellent manufactured by 3M with 34% DEET (we buy the 3-pack). We’ve never been able to find it commercially in the stores, however our pharmacist carries it behind the counter or you can order it online from Amazon or other sources. We put it on in the morning and it is supposed to last 12 hours. We don’t take chances. We also like the Repel Mosquito Wipes with 30% DEET and re-apply late afternoon before the bugs come back out.
What else should I know about Zika?
Zika may be transmitted in other ways. There have been several reported cases of Zika being transmitted sexually. The CDC recommends using condoms after returning from a Zika-effected area. Also, if you are having a relationship with someone who has traveled recently, you would be wise to use condoms.
Is it safe to travel to a country with Zika?
For us, safety is relative. Every day, we get into our cars and drive a long way on highways to work. There’s risk there. Flying to another country with mosquitoes also has risk. But you could also get a cold. Or the flu. Other than women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant, the risk of serious problems is very low. We’re not changing our travel plans because of Zika. If anything, we anticipate the media hysteria will scare otherwise rational people away from traveling to great destinations. That means prices may drop in Zika-effected areas.
Do you have questions about Zika? Please leave them in the comments below and we will add them to our Zika travel information guide.
Cover photo: John Tann (by CC 2.0). Vertical pin photo: A derivative work created by us based on photo from the US Dept of Agriculture (by CC 2.0). Note: Some links may be affiliate links, which means Travel Addicts may earn a few pennies if you buy something – all at no additional cost to you.